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Pirates might have a romantic image, but modern piracy is a criminal menace that is a threat to the lives and livelihoods of many seafarers.In recent years, thousands of seafarers have been killed, injured, assaulted, taken hostage or threatened as piracy and armed robbery have increased dramatically.
What is the current situation?Attacks which previously were limited to Nigerian and Somali coastal waters, have now expanded eastwards, across the Indian Ocean.
With each day that passes the problem of piracy is escalating. Attacks off Somalia, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, are becoming more frequent, more widespread and more violent. The stakes are getting higher too, with spiralling ransoms, such as $9.5m for the Samho Dream.
The ITF and the maritime industry are putting increasing pressure on governments to urgently address the issue of piracy, before its repercussions are felt beyond the maritime community by everyone around the globe.
What impact is piracy having?Seafarers are on the frontline of the piracy problem. All seafarers transiting the Gulf of Aden and Northern Indian Ocean, have to live with the risk of attack. When ships are attacked by pirates, crews suffer the stress of being fired upon with guns and rocket propelled grenades and those captured can be held hostage for months. Following a piracy attack those involved can be seriously affected by post traumatic stress. Indications are that pirates’ treatment of the crew is worsening, with some seafarers having been held in solitary confinement and subjected to other cruelty.
As of January 2011 figures from the International Maritime Bureau, explain that there are over 700 hostages being held on over 30 vessels. However, other figures suggest that the figure could be higher than 800.
For the shipping industry, costs are soaring. Operators now face rising insurance premiums for a high risk area that now covers most of the Indian Ocean and one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Other costs include installing preventative measures and protection on board, employing private security personnel, as well as ransom payments.
Then there is the wider economic impact of piracy which a recent report stated the cost to be between 7-12bn a year. Ship owners are finding it increasingly hard to justify putting seafarers at risk. They are also struggling to find crews that are willing to transit the area. As the situation worsens a blockade of the area becomes more likely. A ban would mean all ships having to sail around the Horn of Africa. This would add several days to most voyages, would push up transport costs, would see oil prices skyrocket and would have a huge impact on the already fragile world economy. If the attacks move further into the Gulf, oil supplies worldwide may be severely affected.
The effected area compromises two strategically important choke points. Around 7.5% of world trade travels through the Suez Canal. The Straits of Hormuz lead to the Arabian Sea and a daily average of 16.5 to 17 million barrels transit through this effected area. This is 40% of the world’s seaborne oil shipments and 20% of all the world’s oil shipments.
There is a real risk of an environmental catastrophe. The rocket-propelled grenades used by many pirates are capable of doing enough damage to the hull of a tanker to cause serious marine pollution or a fatal explosion with consequences similar to those last year in the Gulf of Mexico.
What can be done to combat piracy?The ITF believes that a range of measures are needed to prevent piracy and the dangers it poses to seafarers. These include:
- International assistance for those States willing to combat piracy but who lack the means.
- International pressure to address the problem of states not willing to take remedial action when piracy takes place in their jurisdiction, on their flagged vessels or affects their nationals.
- Action by coastal States when requested, including criminal proceedings, with no undue delay of vessel and/or crew
- Flag States to assist vessels flying their flag who are victims of piracy
- States to assist their seafarer nationals who are victims of piracy
- Close cooperation between all partners in the shipping industry to fight these crimes
- Greater awareness and vigilance by seafarers about the dangers of piracy and armed robbery
- Immediate reporting of all incidents, including the nationality of seafarer victims
- Greater use of equipment such as CCTV to detect and deter attack
Visit www.SaveOurSeafarers.com and you’ll find letters to email to the UN and your government demanding action